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Medical marijuana measure approved for November ballot

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North Dakota petitions for medical marijuana

Brandon Muhs, front, of Fargo, pushes a dolly cart with boxes containing petition signatures in favor of a ballot issue to permit medical marijuana into the Secretary of State's office in July.

A measure allowing people in North Dakota to purchase marijuana for treatment of nearly a dozen medical conditions will be placed on the Nov. 8 ballot.

Secretary of State Al Jaeger announced Thursday morning that a group of supporters of the North Dakota Compassionate Care Act 2016 had gathered enough signatures to place the initiative on the November ballot.

“It really didn’t come as any surprise to us," said Rilie Ray Morgan, chairman of the committee that gathered the signatures. “We were quite sure that we were going to have the necessary signatures."

Under the law, in order to place a measure on the ballot the group needed signatures from 13,452 qualified electors. The group submitted 18,011 signatures, with 17,217 accepted as qualified.

“We felt very comfortable with the margin there," said Morgan, who lives in Fargo and got involved in medical marijuana advocacy about three years ago when he had back surgery “that went south.” As a result, he has only about 30 percent use of his right leg below the knee. He also has severe neuropathic pain in both of his feet.

Two medical marijuana bills failed during the last legislative session. A House bill to legalize medical marijuana for those with a prescription failed by a 26-67 vote. A resolution for an interim study of legalization of medical marijuana for those with serious medical conditions failed by a 32-61 vote.

An effort to gather signatures for a separate measure that would have legalized the substance did not make the deadline to get on the November ballot. The group, which began gathering signatures in March, plan on submitting them within the one-year time limit to be placed on the June 2018 ballot.

Prior to his back surgery, Morgan said he "didn't think much" of using marijuana for medical purposes. But last year he became familiar with how the Schedule 1 drug benefits people with epilepsy, as well as other conditions.

If voters approve the measure, North Dakota will join 25 other states, the District of Columbia and Guam in having medical marijuana programs in place. The measure would allow people with prescriptions to purchase up to 3 ounces of marijuana every 14 days for medical purposes. 

Now that the measure will be on the ballot, Morgan said his group will focus on voter knowledge. He and others in his group, including the 107 volunteers across the state who gathered signatures for the petition, will spend the next 90 days informing voters about the measure.

“If we have to go door to door with our volunteers and have town hall meetings, we’ll do that,” he said. “Hopefully we can persuade enough voters who are undecided to vote yes.”

Morgan doesn’t doubt that many North Dakota voters will be opposed to medical cannabis, but he thinks some have warmed up to the idea in recent years. In fact, he said, numerous people have called the group in the past week and asked what more they can do to help.

“I really think that the attitude of North Dakotans has changed over the past three to four years,” Morgan said.

(Reach Blair Emerson at 701-250-8251 or Blair.Emerson@bismarcktribune.com)

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